The Complete Guide to
Hosting a Virtual Conference

Are you thinking about hosting a virtual conference? Say no more.
This guide is your one-stop shop for understanding the steps involved with
planning, promoting, and running the best virtual event experience imaginable.

(15 min read)

Table of Content

What is a virtual conference?

Let’s get clear on something: a virtual conference is not simply an online conference call (i.e., virtual conferencing), webinar, or virtual meeting. A virtual conference is a type of virtual event that happens in a virtual space designed for business growth. Think thought leadership, lead generation, product adoption, brand awareness, and relationship building. They bring together like-minded people in a virtual environment where they get to experience awesome content, and a rich networking experience, almost identical to what they would experience in a physical conference.

How do virtual conferences work for businesses?

By definition, a virtual conference works the same way very much as an in-person conference. Generally speaking, a business will invite speakers to present their viewpoints or learnings on a particular topic or industry. These presenters are carefully selected by the business to pique the interest of their target audience and drive as many registrations as possible.

Businesses will use virtual conferences as an opportunity to achieve specific business goals and KPIs, which might look like the following: 

  • Building brand awareness 
  • Building topical authority
  • Building pipeline
  • Strengthening customer loyalty and retention
  • Increasing product adoption and lifetime value

But for online conferences to work (really well) for businesses, adopting an Event-led Growth (ELG) mindset is key. Here’s what we mean: Instead of looking at your virtual event as a singular moment in time, you need to look at them on a continuum that begins before the event, and continues after.

This means looking at how you approach and maximize three key parts of any event:

  1. Sign-ups and registrations—in addition to gathering registration data, how are you engaging potential attendees and getting them excited for the event?
  2. The main event—providing a customized experience, connecting people together, and nurturing relationships to drive new accounts and build your sales pipeline. 
  3. Continued engagement—events should not be a one-off spike in your calendars. Smaller, more focused, and more frequent events can help you maintain long-term momentum and keep prospects engaged. It is also about focusing on your follow-ups based on the data you gather. Also, understanding how you can repurpose the event content to keep nurturing attendees.

Once you have those three parts worked out, you need a strategy to pull them off. 

Enter: Your event-first growth strategy.

This type of strategy helps you discover, engage, and grow customers through a connected series of events across the entire customer journey. As a result, you can generate better engagement, develop customer affinity, and nurture prospects further down your sales pipeline. 

This leads us to a frequently asked question…are virtual conferences effective?

 

Are virtual conferences effective?

In short: they absolutely are! But it’s also like asking, “is marketing effective?” It’s effective, but there are many ways to tackle marketing, just as there are many ways to tackle a virtual conference. 

Understanding the advantages of virtual conferences will help paint a clearer picture of why so many businesses prefer planning virtual conferences.

Advantages of virtual conferences

Debating virtual conferences vs. in-person events? Here are some of the main advantages of virtual conferences and why they have become so popular. 

Hello, global reach

Are you looking for ways to reach global audiences? Then virtual conferences can be really effective. Imagine no complex logistics, travel arrangements, or limits on venue capacity.

Welcome, ROI

Virtual conferences are more efficient at solving business problems than their physical counterparts. The investment per attendee is usually lower.

Greetings, communities

Conferences bring passionate people together and closer to your brand. They make a great starting point for building passionate communities around your brand and your industry. When you keep up the engagement momentum after your annual conference with a year-long calendar of smaller, more frequent events, you turn your audience into a community.

But does this mean you should completely avoid in-person events? Not always. Sometimes it’s wise to consider a combination of virtual and in-person for your business conference (we call these hybrid events). Other times, you might like to make the complete pivot from in-person events to a virtually-exclusive conference.

 

In summary: It’s about protecting the event experience you want to deliver. On that note, here’s how to host and plan a virtual conference.

How to host a virtual conference

As the old adage goes: fail to plan, plan to fail. Effective virtual conference planning requires a combination of a clear vision, a solid strategy, and the right mix of virtual conference technology to execute and bring this vision to life.

Set your business goals and objectives for the event

Before you plan the agenda of your virtual conference, make sure you know your event goals and objectives. Set SMART goals, and ensure the whole team understands what you want to achieve. Also, think about the audience you want to attract to this event.

Identify the goals of your attendees

Are your attendees looking forward to networking, thought leadership content, or entertainment? If the primary motive is to network and build connections, then it will make sense for you to tune your conference’s plan to facilitate it.

Decide a theme for your virtual conference

Your theme will determine the entire content of your conference, the kind of sessions you will host, the speakers you will invite, and your audience for the event. 

It makes sense to fine-tune your conference’s theme according to your business goals and attendee expectations.

Plan some unique and engaging activities

Activities like a virtual photo booth or a virtual wine night will allow your attendees to feel entertained and stay engaged. 

Find high-energy hosts for your event

According to a Forrester study commissioned by Airmeet, around 44% of event organizers believe that a high-energy host is a key to event success.

Work on your speaker line-up

Today, you need to orchestrate a content experience that supports and enhances a customer’s journey at each step. You achieve success when different moving parts and content assets join together to offer the right information at the right time and in the right manner.

Build a content experience strategy (more on this soon)

The right line-up of speakers can add credibility to your event, rope in more registrations, enhance your event’s content and keep your attendees engaged throughout.

Narrow down sponsors/partners you’d like to approach

With the right sponsors onboard, you get the budget to plan a better experience and experiment with new ways to boost reach.

Find the best time and date to hold the conference

Holidays, festivals, and events hosted by your competitors can affect attendee turn-out. As a general rule, don’t host events near major holidays and festivals like Christmas, and Thanksgiving as people are busy with their families.

Get the word out

Start promoting your conference well in advance. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the nitty gritty details. As long as you have the event time, speakers, moderators, and the general gist of the event worked out— you’ve got something to promote!

Start engaging your attendees pre-event

On top of your promotion, go the extra mile and send some swag to your attendees. Why? Because it gets them excited to attend your event and helps you get their mindshare. It motivates them to return the gesture or thank you by attending your event—Shannon Wright, The Forem’s Director of Community

Perfect your run of show

This needs to include a to-the-minute rundown of your event’s progression covering speaker presentations, performance times, audience breaks, etc.

Begin troubleshooting

Technical glitches happen, but you should still do as much as possible to avoid them from happening. Conduct multiple dry runs, and build a Plan B for unforeseen interruptions.

Allow your speakers, and host to test the technical set-up and get accustomed with the virtual conference platform.

Follow up post-event

Think about maintaining the momentum post-event. What can you send to them that may help assist—a summary email recapping the main points, an exclusive deal, a feedback questionnaire, or simply a warm thank you? 

Review success & take down learnings

Let’s assume your virtual conference was a raging success. It’s still important to consider what you can do to improve aspects of your event next time. How can you make planning more efficient? Could you have facilitated networking better? Did the results help you achieve your business objectives?

A deeper dive into building an engaging content experience

The biggest challenge with any event is creating the right content experience at the right touchpoints. The good news is that there is a lot in your control when planning a virtual conference, especially when it comes to your content experience. From the sign-up page to keynote sessions — there are multiple content touchpoints to consider. 

At a top level, these content touchpoints could be: 

  • Sign-up page
  • Emails (pre and post-event)
  • Keynote sessions and speaker presentations
  • Fireside chats 
  • Performances by artists, magicians, and comedians
  • Research findings
  • Product demonstrations and launches 
  • Post-conference downloadable assets
  • Virtual breakout sessions

As you can see, there’s a mix of tangible and intangible content touchpoints. It’s your job to tie all of these together into content that considers and boosts attendee engagement.

Attendee empathy is the key to building and tuning your event’s content experience. You should know what provides value to them, what makes them thrilled, and what makes them feel accepted. 

Emotions drive attendee satisfaction. Thus, your event’s content experience should make your attendees feel these emotions: 

  • Hopeful
  • Adventurous
  • Active
  • Accepted
  • Motivated

Now, let’s talk about how you can inject some fun into your virtual event!

6 Ideas to make your virtual events and conferences more engaging (and fun!)

Consider how you’re going to create networking opportunities, encourage audience sharing, introduce different content formats, and how you’ll give your attendees a break from information overload. 

Lucky for you, we’ve got some ideas to get you started: 

  1. Open up a pre-event forum to generate buzz—encourage interaction by using event hosts (or invite your guest speakers) to start conversations in a forum that you open up a few days leading up to the event.
  2. Use Virtual Event Gamification—spice things up with a bit of virtual competition, incentives, and prizes for the most engaged attendees
  3. Facilitate interactive experiences with special event hosts that leave attendees with a story to tell—invite a bartender to run a virtual cocktail-mixing session, a famous chef to teach a cooking class, or a comedian to do stand-up comedy. These are the experiences your attendees won’t forget!
  4. Send some swag to attendees—a notebook, t-shirt, or snack box that can create a sense of community during the event. 
  5. Add interactivity wherever possible—encourage attendees to actively participate with live Q&A sessions, polls, or quizzes throughout presentations, networking sessions, and performances.
  6. Consider having a dedicated social media team ‘working the room’ (aka, live tweeting or live streaming)—this is a great way to keep the engagement up pre, during, and even post-event as attendees like to reply or post their own threads and learnings from the event on their preferred social media platforms.

Once you’ve brainstormed your ideas, it’s time to execute them!

Best practices to host your virtual conference

Giving yourself the best chance of flawless event execution comes down to a combination of factors. So, let’s discuss.

Choose the right virtual conference platform

Virtual conference platforms have unique capabilities to facilitate networking and attendee engagement in an online environment—even some that you never thought was possible other than in a physical event. But not all virtual conference platforms are created equal. Nor is the virtual conference technology that comes with them!

Conduct dry runs before the event

There’s nothing worse than watching all of your months of hard work come undone with a single technical glitch. Even worse, if you find out that the allocated times don’t work out and you’re left having to cut a presentation on the day.

That’s why having a rehearsal before the main event is important. It’s a chance to bring everyone together to ask questions and provide critical feedback to help you deliver a flawless event. Be sure to schedule tests of each set-up with speakers, moderators, entertainment, and interactive sessions.

Make sure all team members know their roles during the live event

In addition to the preparation leading up to the event, you also need to assign responsibilities for different aspects of your event on the day. Be sure to assign specific responsibilities and roles to key people within your event management team for the live event to keep things running smoothly. That way, if a problem comes up on the day, there is immediate accountability to get things back on track quickly.

Schedule your reminder and invitation emails

Just because you have the date of your event etched in your mind doesn’t necessarily mean your attendees do. After you’ve crafted the perfect line of communication, automate this process as much as possible to take one less thing off your plate. Email communication can be easily scheduled in advance or edited on the fly if something changes. The goal here is to keep actively communicating with attendees before the event to keep engagement and attendance levels high.

Keep redundancy for operations

Kind of like a plan C, D, or E—this is when you need to think about all the worst-case scenarios that could happen. Then, you plan out what your course of action will be to keep things running as smoothly as possible. One example is ensuring you have a backup internet connection if the WIFI completely drops. Or a backup activity if a speaker unexpectedly drops out.

Send your audience thank you/missed-you swag

Nothing says ‘thank-you’ or ‘missed you at the conference’ better than a surprise package arriving in the mail. Consider this your final ‘surprise and delight’ gesture to keep your business front-of-mind for the attendees. It’s truly the cherry on top of a well-executed virtual conference.

While it’s all well and good to know how to run a brilliant virtual conference, what’s the point if you don’t have maximum attendees there to enjoy all your hard work and planning? Let’s dive into some tips to get maximum registrations at your future virtual events.

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How to promote a virtual conference: tips to get maximum registrations

Promoting a virtual conference is a no-brainer. Without some form of marketing, you will be hard-pressed to hit your registration numbers and, subsequently, build attendee engagement and buzz around your virtual conference. 

But, is there a best practice way when it comes to virtual conference promotion? Follow these tips.

  • Be guided by your target audience: Let your target audience (and the type of experience you want to provide) lead your event marketing plan. Once you know your target audience and the experience you’re aiming for, you’ll narrow down what channels will be the most effective. For example, email, social media ads, or direct mail are all viable options. 
  • Nail down your key messaging: You want this to focus on the most important aspects of your virtual events. Think about your event’s biggest drawcards: is it the entertainment? The amazing speaker line-up? Or a completely different way of networking?
  • Send some share-worthy swag: What do people do when they receive cool gifts? They share it. Increase your chances of promotion by sending some epic swag to your already registered attendees. It might be the extra sweetener someone needs to register.
  • Encourage event hashtags to create FOMO: Don’t let this one be an oversight! Encourage your attendees to always use your event hashtag across social media platforms anytime they post updates before, during, and after your virtual events. If potential attendees didn’t make it this year, this is one way to remind them not to miss the next one!
  • Promote teasers of your virtual conference: Send event agendas, teasers, or even exclusive offers to those who have signed up. For those who haven’t, a key tip for virtual conference promotion is to draw them in with curated marketing content that will whet their appetite. 
  • Offer early bird discounts for early registrations: Offering a small incentive like a discount for registering by a certain date could be exactly what your attendee needs to take action quickly. It will also help you get an idea of numbers ahead of time and give you more opportunities to start engaging with them before the event.

So you know the kind of experience you want to create, but how do you bring your vision to life? An important part of your virtual conference planning journey is having the right technology to support you. That’s where a virtual conference platform steps in.

How to choose a virtual conference platform

Different virtual conference platforms suit particular use cases, while others are all-rounders. So, how do you choose the right one for you? 

Here are some key questions to think about:

  • Is the platform user-friendly? 
  • How can the platform help you drive engagement between speakers and attendees?
  • What features does the platform provide to help you create virtual impromptu conversations and networking opportunities? (i.e., virtual booths, breakout rooms, and speed networking sessions should be driving indicators to select a platform).
  • What integrations does the platform include to help you facilitate end-to-end event planning across registration and ticketing, event website, event app, promotions, and more?
  • What other flexibility does the platform provider have to ensure you can host any and every kind and size of the conference you wish? For example, can you schedule multiple tracks and sessions to cater to different groups of attendees?

 

Now that you have the questions prepared, it’s time to speak to the vendors who have the best virtual conference technology.

In the list below, we have picked the best virtual event platforms that are rich in features and capabilities to run an amazing virtual conference.

  • Registration and ticketing
  • Event website
  • Event app
  • Event promotion
  • Sponsor/speaker management
  • Agenda builder
  • Networking and attendee engagement
  • Data analytics
  • Integrations
  • Virtual production services

You can get all-in-one virtual event platforms that come with a number of integrations to work with the tools you are already using in your business.

For example, improve your event registrations by integrating Zapier, export registration data to Mailchimp, or gain a holistic view of your attendees by integrating with your Salesforce dashboard. Or choose browser-based, no-download virtual events and webinar software solutions to broadcast your event on multiple platforms without any additional hassle.

What are the best virtual conference platforms available?

To narrow down your choices, here are some of the best virtual conference platforms out there: 

  • Airmeet
  • Zoho Meeting
  • HeySummit
  • BigMarker
  • Hopin
  • VFairs
  • Remo
  • SpotMe

But which one is the absolute best? Here’s why Airmeet should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for the best virtual conference platform.

To put it bluntly: Airmeet is undisputed when it comes to virtual conference technology. Airmeet has the world’s first Event Experience Cloud that gives full control over the way people want to organize their events. An all-in-one event experience solution that comes with four products AirStudio, AX360, AirControl, and AirIntel. 

What should all these fancy names mean to you? Let’s dive into them individually.

AirStudio helps you easily create the ultimate branded and personalized event experience

Imagine a life-like reception greeting your virtual attendees and leaving an unforgettable first impression. Or a cinematic stage that boasts Hollywood production quality without the heavy price tag. What about an immersive video that captures your audience with announcements or a personal welcome message? AirStudio is packed with features to help you easily create these highly personalized event experiences. Fully brand and customize multiple avenues like reception, virtual booths, stages, and lounges at the event.

AX360 helps you dial up engagement to create richer, more meaningful connections

Picture a virtual networking lounge for conversation and networking that feels like you’re in person. Or the opportunity to allow attendees to join speakers on the virtual stage. Or being able to easily start a conversation through an engaging Q&A, chat, or polls. AX360 gives you networking features that go beyond just any other platform. It’s all about making sure your attendees are fully immersed in what your event has to offer.

AirControl helps you stay in control and run your event without a hitch

AirControl allows you to achieve event planning perfection where you can onboard your entire team on its intuitive UI and start integrating with your existing tech stack. 

AirIntel helps you measure the success of your event performance

It’s often an afterthought, but event performance needs to be measured. Surely you want to be able to understand whether your event was a success? But to be able to understand this picture entirely, you need easy access to the right data to measure the conference’s performance and ROI. AirIntel allows you to tap into multiple data points across your entire event experience—ultimately removing the guesswork when it comes to understanding your event’s ROI.

You’re all set to host your virtual conference

If it wasn’t made clear enough, virtual conferences allow your business to remove borders and build meaningful connections with thousands of attendees at scale, all while accelerating your sales pipeline. 

The first step is understanding the type of experience you want to provide and building your virtual event strategy around that. 

If there is one thing you should take away from all of this: you should have the best virtual conference platform to help you execute your strategy and deliver an unforgettable experience.

FAQs

What is a virtual conference?

A virtual conference is a virtual event that brings together like-minded people in an online environment. The entire virtual event experience is centered around providing a rich attendee networking experience that provides the same value (if not more) as in person events. 

How to run a virtual conference?

Develop a detailed agenda and assign roles and responsibilities to key people within your event management team and your event hosts. Then, choose a virtual conference platform to help you run a virtual event easily, and deliver the virtual event experience you envision. 

How to make virtual conferences engaging?

First, it is important to make sure that the conference schedule is packed with interesting and interactive sessions. This will help to keep attendees engaged throughout the event. 

Secondly, it can be helpful to provide opportunities for networking and socializing between sessions. This can be done by creating virtual networking lounges or hosting social events like happy hours. 

Finally, it is important to make sure that the conference platform is easy to use and navigate. If attendees are struggling to figure out how to access the conference content or connect with other attendees, they are likely to become disengaged.

How to organize a virtual conference?

In this order: Define the purpose and goals of the conference, choose a date and time that will work for the majority of your potential attendees, find a suitable virtual events platform for hosting your conference, promote your conference using all the channels at your disposal, and plan for technical difficulties by conducting a dry run of the event before d-day. 

How to plan a virtual conference?

Once you have the purpose and logistics of your virtual conference planned out, you need to plan what your virtual conference experience will entail. What topics will be covered? Who will be speaking? How can you make sure that the content is engaging and interactive? 

There are a lot of virtual events happening these days, so what can you do to make yours stand out and attract attention? By following these steps and keeping these key considerations in mind, you can plan a successful virtual conference that achieves your desired goals.

How to attend a virtual conference? 

There are a few things you need to do in order to attend a virtual conference. First, you need to register for the conference. This can usually be done online. Once you have registered, you will need to log in to the conference website. 

Once you are logged in, you can access the event agenda and materials. Make sure to review the schedule so you know when and where the sessions you are interested in will take place. 

In order to participate in the conference, you will need to have a computer with an internet connection. You may also need to download and install some software, depending on the conference platform (this isn’t required with Airmeet’s Virtual Conference platform!). Once you have everything set up, you will be able to join the sessions you are interested in and participate in the conference.

Airmeet is the undisputed king of virtual conferences

But don’t take it from us! See for yourself

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